"The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy (ECWD) held its biannual conference in Baltimore, Maryland from 8-10 July, focusing on the effort to expand and consolidate a national network of worker cooperatives. The meeting was attended by more than 200 participants who were committed to expanding the conference for workers democracy in the US and Canada. At a time when organized labor in the US is at its unprecedented nadir, a central theme emerged from the conference: As traditional trade unions are declining it is vital to build new forms of worker organization rooted in the concept of democracy and equality.
The ECWD brought together leading activists and participants from the North American cooperative movement to discuss the state of cooperatives, new initiatives, and potential obstacles to forging worker democracy and economic control in the region. The conference brought together a diverse group of cooperatives engaged in new organizing efforts.
The original goal of the conference was to share experiences and knowledge on new developments facing cooperatives in the US and Canada, expand opportunities to marginalized communities, and developing an agenda to maintain and develop the cooperative movement in the US through working-class solidarity.
Richmond, CA is actively encouraging worker cooperatives as a solution to unemployment. Worker, consumer, producer & housing cooperatives have long existed in the region, and Terry Baird is a veteran of that movement. He also presents the International Cooperative Principles for that section of the upcoming, "This Way Out: A Guide to Starting A Worker Cooperative" DVD coming out soon.
The goal of this workshop is to share skills and potentially establish cooperative producing systems within the Occupy Oakland movement to empower participants and increase the collective economic power of the movement. Be prepared to share your skills (eg sewing, crocheting, knitting, shoe repair, electronic repair, programming, roofing, construction, anything you can do that is of value to someone else, etc).
But work is by no means guaranteed. Before the Sabbath or Jewish holidays, the demand for cleaners increases; on other days, many women never leave the corner.So some of them decided they would take matters into their own hands and start a business.“If they pick you up for two or three hours, that’s good,” said Ms. Bucio, who moved to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico, with her sister in 1997. “And if not, in any case, you go like you arrived, with empty hands.”
Last November, the Bucio sisters founded the Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning cooperative with a handful of women whom they met at the Williamsburg hiring site. The group advertises on recycled paper and makes its own cleaning products, forgoing harsh chemicals for ingredients like lemon juice, glycerin, borax and fruit oils. The women taught themselves to make the cleansers and refined their recipes through a combination of Internet research and trial and error. “When we say we’re from a company with a business card, they treat you differently from the time you arrive,” Yesenia Bucio, 32, Teresa Bucio’s sister, said. “I feel very good, very happy and I have very high self-esteem.”"
The first conference develops as a cooperative reaction to the estimate that, in Canada alone, 200,000 small business owners will be retiring over the next 10 years. For many, they will not have children interested in running the business. Further, the buyers may be more interested in simply shutting the companies down instead of maintaining them. Worker cooperatives offer a great opportunity for the owners to sell to their employees. This allows the legacy of the owner to carry on into perpetuity. They will not see their life’s work simply boxed up and shipped away. For the children who inherited a company that they don’t really want, it gives them an opportunity to realize their inheritance without harming the workers who helped provide that inheritance. For communities, it means being able to keep legacy businesses, stores and factories that helped define the local culture as well as jobs and capital.
In the United States, owners avoid Capital Gains taxes if they sell to their workers. I am not sure if Canada has similar laws, but my guess is that this conference will answer that question and more. The conference begins October 11 and runs through the 13th.
Of course, my good friend, USFWC President and Progressive Magazine blogger Rebecca Kemble will also be present and presenting. It should be an exciting conference and a rare opportunity for those of us in the US to learn about the Quebecois worker coop movement. Likewise, we will also be sharing some of our newest developments such as Union Cab’s new peer review program which moved disciplinary and accountability power from management to panels of peers. My fellow worker, Martha Kemble, will be presenting that topic.
However, the big event will be the creation of a CICOPA North America as a subgroup of the CICOPA Americas. Traditionally, the two continents of this hemisphere have been linked together in one geographical unit (the others of Europe, Africa and Asia). To be fair, the number of worker co-ops in the US was nominal until just a few years ago. However, the development of the regional trading groups, MERCOSUR and NAFTA, have caused the ICA map to become a bit dated. The work here, won’t undo that map, but it will create an organization that is better suited for working with the NAFTA based nations (including Mexico and the Caribbean) as our movements grow and prosper.
Worker Cooperative Startups Worker cooperatives are worker owned, democratically managed businesses. Worker ownership means that members appropriate any profit or loss the coop incurs. Outside investors are limited to a fixed rate of return. Democratic management means one member, one vote in the governance of the cooperative, giving the workers control. The standard worker cooperative model has internal capital accounts comprised of member investments, a collective reserve account of unallocated retained earnings, debt, and preferred equity (non-voting, non-convertible, fixed value, fixed return shares). This paper focuses on the special case of a worker cooperative startup. Startup worker cooperatives are expected to have an initial operating loss. After the startup period worker cooperatives are generally expected to be profitable, barring unforeseen circumstances. Worker cooperatives create a unique investment situation where initial members are required to make an investment that is expected to decline in value, something unprecedented in mainstream finance.
"Leaders in the sustainability movement believe that the most promising economic development strategy available may be a focus on economic justice. This would reduce poverty and increase tax revenues, strengthen democracy and the sense of a shared future, reduce the tax burden for social services, and increase support for investments in education and public infrastructure. All of these are part of a viable and sustainable local economy. Worker cooperatives can be an important tool in this strategy. According to the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, cooperatives can create a green and just economy by building community wealth “in which ownership is broadly shared, locally rooted, and directed toward the common good. Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and democratically controlled by their workers. They have been organized since the dawn of the industrial revolution and have been successful in virtually every industry – from mining companies, to robotics firms, taxi drivers, health care providers, food processors, to creative and technology firms – anywhere where the workers and their community would benefit from having a stake in their workplace and the incentive of receiving an equitable share of the fruits of their labor.
WAGES incubates housecleaning cooperatives that use eco-friendly cleaning products and techniques. These profitable businesses generate high-quality jobs, providing financial stability and asset accumulation for low-income new immigrant women and their families, and protect the health of workers and their business clients. To date, WAGES has created four successful green-cleaning cooperatives, beginning our fifth project in 2011.
The Executive Director of WAGES will provide overall leadership and direction for all WAGES’ activities and ensure a healthy organizational infrastructure to support program growth and stability. The ideal candidate will possess a strong background in managing a nonprofit organization and will have entrepreneurial expertise and spirit to continue to build and support successful cooperatives to serve the Latina immigrant socias that participate in our program.
A minimum of five years service as a high-level administrator in a nonprofit organization.
Private sector business experience.
Prior experience working with immigrant populations or familiarity with the immigrant experience.
Previous experience as an Executive Director of a nonprofit 501 c3 organization.
Guidelines and tips to getting your workshop accepted:
This conference year is the International Year of the Cooperative. It is our time to celebrate what we represent and also to share our tools and experience with people from all different regions. Keep this in mind as you formulate your workshop ideas. We are looking for solutions to specific challenges as well as ways that worker cooperatives link up to larger solutions.
Be specific! Often we can learn most concretely and make the bigger connections by focusing in very closely on a particular region or industry or cooperative or structure or idea. Consider how to keep it interesting by making it specific, and then how to relate it back out to our overall theme: solutions.
Be creative! The world may not need another general "unions and coops" discussion, or "management issues in coops" workshop, but these issues are important, so consider approaching them from an unexpected angle or new vantage point.
Be something we haven't seen before! There's always room for the basics and foundational topics, and if you're really good at those, by all means propose a workshop on a well-traveled coop topic. But what will really get you noticed is something we haven't seen yet: either a new topic, or new approach to an old topic, or a new presentation method/presenters
Penticton and Area Cooperative Enterprises (PACE) is a worker cooperative committed to community base recovery through supported employment, supported education, and consumer operated services in Penticton, British Columbia.
To provide transition to employment, specific skill training, paid work opportunities and opportunities to develop consumer run businesses to persons diagnosed with a mental illness and referred by mental health service providers.
Issues that the Cooperative Addresses
PACE is a rehabilitation program that helps address the gap that exists with many Mental Health Services in the continuum of care provided for Mental Health clients in recovery. The gap exists largely in community based rehabilitation services that address the rehabilitation politics of inclusion and integration into society. This model has proven, over the past three years, that given the opportunity to participate in paid work, have control over their choices and movements they make on their journey towards integration and citizenship, clients stay well for longer periods and rely less on emergency services.
Description of the Cooperative
A new perspective on community based, vocational rehabilitation is alive and well in Penticton. The concept of developing a worker cooperative to assist our mental health clients to participate in paid employment opportunities is not a new idea. What makes this cooperative unique is that it is a multi-stakeholder cooperative where the membership is 70% client members and 30% supporters. The other unique aspect is that it is a “not for profit” cooperative meaning that all profits once payrolls and expenses are paid are directed back into the cooperative and not paid out to members as is the case in most corporations. This is not to be confused with a non profit society. The Penticton & Area Cooperative Enterprises (P.A.C.E.) is a business and is out there to make profit!
Presently PACE has a number of divisions or shall we say Consumer Run Businesses that operate under the mandate of the cooperative. These businesses each have their own “Worker Pool”. They meet once a week and make decisions about how they run their business. The motions made at these meetings give direction to the service providers working under PACE such as the operations manager, bookkeepers and front end staff and it gives the workers a strong sense of ownership. The cooperative model is effective as a Rehabilitation vehicle for Mental Health clients who often struggle with developing a strong sense of self, belonging and just feeling like they are contributing to community. The prospect and reality of earning extra money every month has also contributed to clients having a better quality of life and are looking forward to the future with hope.
The spreadsheet gives four examples, from simpler (with the greatest equality) to more complex.The first example uses hours worked as the measurement, and labor hours remain the building block through the examples.The second amplifies the amount of work performed by some hours by addinga "skill factor" to certain workers. This may be used where some labor contibutes a greater amount work, including special skills.The third example follows that format, but uses wage differentials as an index of skill, essentially assuming that pay is already measuring the amount of work performed (which may not be true - pay may measure seniority, for instance, but not greater skill).The last example is of a worker cooperative where there are different worker membership classes, and amplifies the work performed by some "special" class.This is the most unequal, but there may be cases in which it is useful to recognize a special contribution by some member classes if they are not recognized in other ways.
The best system should be fair, transparent and understandable, and agreed upon democratically - and enshrined in your bylaws before the fiscal year in which the work is performed.
There are surely other models, for example adding a skill factor for certain tasks or labor hours, rather than for certain laborers.I would interested to hear about your model in the comments if you have one to offer.
For nearly a year, cooperative business owners and developers have been working to develop a wonderful piece of legislation that will support the growth of cooperative businesses in underserved communities throughout the country. For months, many of you have been hearing about this, but recently we've been particularly quiet. That's because we've been hard at work, behind the scenes, preparing to grow our campaign to fully support the legislation when it is introduced.
I'm happy to announce today that our campaign has a home!
We need your support. We could spend our days calling the offices of al Members of Congress, telling them about this terrific piece of legislation, but it wouldn't be very effective. Members of Congress are not interested in hearing what people outside their districts think they should support. They want to hear from their constituents, which is YOU! The Campaign for Cooperation will work with you and help you spread the word about the National Cooperative Development Act, and to help you talk to your Representatives about how wonderful co-ops are, and how this legislation will benefit their constituents.
We expect Rep. Fattah to introduce the National Cooperative Development Act this Fall, and the cooperative community needs to be ready to support it from day 1. We will let you know as soon as the legislation is available. While we wait for its introduction, there are a couple things you can do to help.
Scale and markets notwithstanding, Cooperative Home Care Associates (New York City) and Childspace Day Care Centers (Philadelphia) have plenty to teach Canada's co-operators and other CED activists. Kreiner challenges CED practitioners to move beyond creating business just within ‘their’ territory; they are often poor, thus possess weak markets and often have a hard time attracting entrepreneurial and professional management. He asserts one can be often more strategic and get better results through focusing on sectors where the quality of service provided is a competitive advantage. The twin benefit of better jobs (within the sectors targeted) and higher quality service (through workers also being owners) is backed up by the evidence presented in these two cases. Interestingly, the cases he presents both are both ‘human services’.
...The P6 model works for the consumer co-op world (and those providing it with goods) despite its inherent flaws; however, what should worker co-ops do to promote solidarity amongst ourselves in a way that builds our movement not sow the seeds of our destruction? Here are a few ideas:
Join your local network of worker co-operatives or help to create one.
Work with the WCFCU and local, regional and national networks to create a solidarity fund. Imagine if the 80 member co-ops of the US Federation committed 10% of their annual surplus to a solidarity fund and another 10% to a development fund as the Mondragon co-operatives do? Our co-ops would be able to navigate the tough times and take advantage of development funds to expand when the market beckons.
In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II rejected the idea that "private ownership of the means of production" should remain an "untouchable dogma" of economic life. He also rejects a mere conversion of private property into state property and the creation of a command economy. His vision of an alternative is captured in the following lines:
Merely converting the means of production into State property in the collectivist system is by no means equivalent to "socializing" that property. We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else… the members of each body would be looked upon and treated as persons and encouraged to take an active part in the life of the body.
There is little said here about markets – in fact, the word "market" does not appear even once throughout the entire encyclical. Thus the "socializing" of the economy is evidently a task that can take place without excessive and ultimately harmful interference in the market. Instead, it can come about through the proliferation of organizations wherein the "subject character of society is ensured," where "each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner" of his place of work, and where the members are "encouraged to take an active part in the life of the body." These are the underlying principles of workers' cooperatives.
One example of the cooperative principle in action is the Mondragón, a cluster of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. It can't be mere coincidence that this organization, which is the largest and most successful cooperative in the world, was founded by a Catholic priest by the name of José María Arizmendiarrieta. To me it suggests that there is something in the Catholic view of society and justice that is naturally hospitable to the idea of the workers' cooperative.
As the economic rebound continues to lag, many entrepreneurs and small companies are looking for innovative strategies to survive and prosper in the face of tough times and even tougher credit. Perhaps the most innovative approach is to rethink the very nature of what it means to be a company…Co-ops have long been dismissed as touchy-feely experiments in business socialism, but with growing pressure on many traditional companies, the co-op model is getting increased attention -- not just as a political statement of owner-worker solidarity, but as a fresh approach to business success…. Several new high-profile cooperatives have attracted a substantial amount of funding from local foundations and investors. In Cleveland, entrepreneurs backed by a grant from a local development fund opened Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a worker-owned firm that delivers high-end laundry services to health care providers and currently employs 10 workers. Its success inspired a similar co-op, Ohio Cooperative Solar, which will provide solar panels for large companies. In New York, another new co-op, ReBuilders Source, will sell recycled building materials to construction companies.
Co-ops offer several advantages, the primary one being that because employees own the business and share in its success, motivation is seldom a problem. "You have at least two-thirds of the workers who take great pride in the fact that we are an employee-owned company, that their name is on the line in terms of quality," explains Firmat. And because co-ops usually keep overhead low -- the workers who own them naturally want to keep expenses down -- they can often pass on lower prices to consumers. And, notes Firmat, Full Sail is able to use its employee ownership as a marketing tool to help foster an image of high quality and local production, which appeals to many beer buyers. Co-ops' low costs can give them a real advantage in the most expensive sectors of the economy. That's good business, but also good for customers. "Health care and employee-benefits cooperatives can help rein in the skyrocketing costs of these services," notes NCBA president Paul Hazen.
A few factual errors (Full Sail is not organized as a cooperative, Rebuilders Source has closed, the definition of cooperative is not quite on target) suggest the article was not thoroughly researched, but it remains good to see the cooperative story being broadcast to the business community.
Norma Sanchez's hand still flutters to her chest when she remembers the incident that was the beginning of the end of her career as a $5-an-hour janitor. She was mixing heavy-duty cleaners in a supplies closet when the mixture exploded, filling the space with caustic smoke. Unable to read the English labels, she had accidentally combined ammonia and bleach.The Oakland resident's lungs ached for a month but taking a night off seemed impossible."Now I look back at all of that and I say, 'Wow, I was really suffering,'" she said.
Today, Sanchez, 35, cleans with baking soda and natural Castile soap and takes sick days when she needs them.She is one of dozens of low-income, low-education, sometimes undocumented workers who have gone into business for themselves thanks to a boom in worker-owned cooperatives.
The cooperative is a subsidiary and affiliate of the Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), a non-profit organization.The cooperative pays dues to and holds a seat on ADP's Board of Directors.Some of United for Hire's work comes from the maintenance of ADP's other affiliates, including 5 tenant-owned subsidized housing cooperatives totaling 1,400 units of affordable housing.
"Whereas in the public sphere, we cherish equality, in the private sphere, we live with incredibly unequal power relationships; whereas in the public sphere, we promote the questioning of authority, in the private sphere, we have a “culture of deference.”If the devolution of power to states and localities might enhance participation as people become more and more collective masters of their own fates and regulations, would not devolution into one of the major components of nearly every person’s life, work, also enhance participation? At the level of the cooperative, voting groups are often small enough that one vote really does make a significant difference, and so changes the rational calculation as to whether to participate. Moreover, participation in the cooperative has a real and visible effect on one’s own fate; for example, in approval of hiring of a manager, or in the election of a board to run the company day-to-day."